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Earl Marshall

Month: August 2009 (page 1 of 2)

The difference between biblical lament and a pity party

We had a meaningful morning of ministry as we gathered together on Sunday. I spoke with so many who experienced a new level of freedom in their spiritual journey. We need to regularly experience together lament in our corporate worship.

For that to happen will require a growing depth in our trust of one another and of God. We hide much too often behind our smiles when we are together. I totally understand why we do that. Being real together requires safety in relationship. It means getting beyond self imposed expectations of what we need to appear to be like in public. It requires giving space and freedom to those who are experiencing misery. Being happy all the time is not required. Tears do not always entail something is wrong. Tears are the marks of a real relationship.

Lament like so many other good things in life can migrate into something else, like pity. The difference as I see it is in how we are approaching God. Trust is the essential ingredient that leads to intimacy. As I see it whining has nothing to do with trust. When I whine I am really just listening to myself express my own pain. When I lament I am bringing my complaint, questions, anger, and pain to God. This is biblical lament. It is built on a trust in the God who it seems is silent. When we yell and scream out to the heavens we, at its basic foundation, are crying out to the God we believe hears and acts even though it feels like he is totally absent.

Doing this together will require extreme empathy. God help us to be real.
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How Should Believers Read the Bible?

I am reading Mark Noll’s book “The New Shape of World Christianity” and I was struck with the following question. “What is the biblical norm by which the rest of the Bible is read?”. Noll’s point is that historically and presently around the globe Christians are choosing different sections of scripture as “normative in such a way as to enlighten the rest”.

It seems to me that this is an accurate assessment. While we are encouraged to read all of scripture where should one start? Gospels, Pauline letters, Acts? Where you start or what you emphasize will no doubt shape your interpretation and Christian practice.

The recent focus on a post-modern read of Jesus in the Gospels while reacting to an emphasis in modern Pauline biblical studies is a case in point. Perhaps this is inevitable and what is needed is a skill set that is able to identify foundational biblical bias.
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Another New Bible Resource

Just came across another Bible resource called the Glo .  Take a look at it and you may find it helpful for your Scripture meditation. 

Psalm 88


I am over my head in lament psalms this week.  I am ready for some "happy songs".  Hard to believe that Israel sang these songs of lament as worship.  Actually it is refreshing to know that corporate worship is rooted in real life and that nothing is out of bounds with God.

Psalm 88 (The Message)

1-9 God, you're my last chance of the day. I spend the night on my knees before you.
   Put me on your salvation agenda;
      take notes on the trouble I'm in.
   I've had my fill of trouble;
      I'm camped on the edge of hell.
   I'm written off as a lost cause,
      one more statistic, a hopeless case.
   Abandoned as already dead,
      one more body in a stack of corpses,
   And not so much as a gravestone—
      I'm a black hole in oblivion.
   You've dropped me into a bottomless pit,
      sunk me in a pitch-black abyss.
   I'm battered senseless by your rage,
      relentlessly pounded by your waves of anger.
   You turned my friends against me,
      made me horrible to them.
   I'm caught in a maze and can't find my way out,
      blinded by tears of pain and frustration.

 9-12 I call to you, God; all day I call.
      I wring my hands, I plead for help.
   Are the dead a live audience for your miracles?
      Do ghosts ever join the choirs that praise you?
   Does your love make any difference in a graveyard?
      Is your faithful presence noticed in the corridors of hell?
   Are your marvelous wonders ever seen in the dark,
      your righteous ways noticed in the Land of No Memory?

 13-18 I'm standing my ground, God, shouting for help,
      at my prayers every morning, on my knees each daybreak.
   Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear?
      Why do you make yourself scarce?
   For as long as I remember I've been hurting;
      I've taken the worst you can hand out, and I've had it.
   Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life;
      I'm bleeding, black-and-blue.
   You've attacked me fiercely from every side,
      raining down blows till I'm nearly dead.
   You made lover and neighbor alike dump me;
      the only friend I have left is Darkness.

Sometimes the only answer we get from heaven is the silence of God (Michael Card).

What Can Miserable Christians Sing? by Carl R. Trueman


This Sunday we will be experiencing lament as worship.  In general we tend to not equate lament with worship.  We are much more comfortable with praise and thanksgiving as acceptable forms of corporate worship.  Lament psalms, however, form the majority of the Hebrew hymnbook, the Psalter.  Consider Trueman's words as you reflect on the role that the disoriented life has in worship.

“Having experienced — and generally appreciated — worship across the whole evangelical spectrum, from Charismatic to Reformed — I am myself less concerned here with the form of worship than I am with its content. Thus, I would like to make just one observation: the psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene. I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken.

In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society. And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored.

Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament — but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps — and this is more likely — it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one — and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this.

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience.

Indeed, the biblical portraits of believers give no room to such a notion. Look at Abraham, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, and the detailed account of the psalmists’ experiences. Much agony, much lamentation, occasional despair — and joy, when it manifests itself — is very different from the frothy triumphalism that has infected so much of our modern Western Christianity. In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship. Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative? If not, why not? Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?

I did once suggest at a church meeting that the psalms should take a higher priority in evangelical worship than they generally do — and was told in no uncertain terms by one indignant person that such a view betrayed a heart that had no interest in evangelism. On the contrary, I believe it is the exclusion of the experiences and expectations of the psalmists from our worship — and thus from our horizons of expectation — which has in a large part crippled the evangelistic efforts of the church in the West and turned us all into spiritual pixies.

By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church. By so doing, it has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistically triumphalist Christianity, and confirmed its impeccable credentials as a club for the complacent. In the last year, I have asked three very different evangelical audiences what miserable Christians can sing in church. On each occasion my question has elicited uproarious laughter, as if the idea of a broken-hearted, lonely, or despairing Christian was so absurd as to be comical — and yet I posed the question in all seriousness. Is it any wonder that British evangelicalism, from the Reformed to the Charismatic, is almost entirely a comfortable, middle-class phenomenon?”

–Carl R. Trueman, from “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus: 2004) pp. 158-160.



Here are a couple of resources that will help you in your attempts to have God's Word the foundation for your life.

You Version allows you to download your favourite version of the Bible to your handheld or computer.  You can even develop your own plan for daily reading.  Fantastic stuff.  I still like being able to see the verses in context and I am still waiting for a better handheld application to do this.  I really enjoy the online version of the ESV that I was able to access when I bought my hardcopy of the ESV Bible.  I love how the cool mellow voice reads the text to me as I follow along.  Point is there are tons of resources now that give us great access to making meditation of God's Word that much more available to us right where we are.

Another resource is Verse Card Maker.  Now you can put the reference in and then "bam" out comes the verse on your printer.  Fantasic resource.


Psalm 119


I am working on Psalm 119 this week.  No worries, we aren't going to be doing a verse by verse exposition on Sunday morning.  I have been impacted by the extent of detail in this psalm.  C.S. Lewis writes, "it is a pattern, a thing done like embroidery, stitch by stitch, through long, quiet hours, for love of the subject and for delight in leisurely, disciplined craftsmanship." (Reflections on the Psalms, page 58-59)

The psalmist has an intense love for God's Word/law.  His passion and longing for it are obvious.  His pursuit of obedience to it refreshing.  His desire to see God change his life through it an amazing sign of faith.  Today we downplay a love of the Word.  Perhaps so we are concerned of an almost pharisaical idolatry in loving the Bible and not the God who has given us this amazing message.  This is dangerous but there is no doubt that the psalmist sees an intimate connnection between a love of God and loving his words. 

Do yourself a favour and read through Psalm 19, 119, and 1.  Note how passionate the psalmist is about God and the law.  Seems to me that a true sign of where my heart is with God is the level of passion I have for Scripture. 

Psalm 1 and 2


Yesterday we looked at how the Psalms were a collection of 150 blogs, prayers, poems, songs used by the nation of Israel in corporate worship and over the years as a means of spiritual direction for many.  There is evidence all through this collection indicating that it is not a random gathering but a very intentional gathering together of these 150.  The development of five books is evidence enough let alone the numerous collecting of similar psalms and putting them together in the Psalter.

It comes as no surprise then that Psalm 1 and 2 have a unique role to play.  Eugene Peterson says, "they are pre-prayer, getting us ready, making us adequate for prayer" (Answering God).  They serve like a great gate into the act of worship.  One one side, Psalm 1 tells us that the condition of our lives in worship must be that of absolute delight and meditation on God's law (his word).  I find it interesting that a book of prayer and worship does not specifically address such at the beginning.  Instead the editors of this amazing book of poetry start with words of wisdom.  It is as if they are saying, "if you want to know how to truly worship God start with an absolute love for his word, words that reflect who he truly is".  That is worthy of meditation.  On the other, Psalm 2 "introduces us to the role of the king, who as God's 'anointed one' and 'son' . . .  is Yahweh's protector of his people" (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, 132). 

In one dramatic moment of placing these two psalms at the beginning of the psalter the ancient musicians teach us the key to worship of God our king.  Delight and meditate on his word and discover your freedom in the Messiah. 

We can't love God without loving his word.  We can't worship God without doing it through the Messiah!


Looking forward to Sunday and the beginning of our mini-series on Psalms.  Here are some quotes as you consider the impact of this amazing part of God's Word on your life.

"Whoever has begun to pray the Psalter earnestly and regularly, will soon take leave of those other , easy, little prayers of their own and say: ‘Au, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter.’ "(Luther)

"It seems to me also that the psalms are like a mirror. Anyone who recites them sees himself, and all the movements of his own heart and mind."  (St. Athanasius)


"I read the Psalms every day, as I have done for years; I know them and love them more than any other book." (Bonhoeffer)


"Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do — they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, girls, my mates, the way in to my spirit was a combination of words and music. As a result, the Book of Psalms always felt open to me." (Bono)


"The world is the theatre of God’s glory." (Calvin)


"The psalmists have season tickets in this theatre.  All the Psalms are prayed in it.  They pray breathless in awe, laughing and crying, puzzled and dismayed, complaining and believing." (Eugene Peterson)


 “I became aware of three paradoxes in the psalms: that in them pain is indeed “missed-in Praise”, but in a way that takes pain fully into account;  that though of all the books of the Bible the Psalms speak most directly to the individual, they cannot be removed from a communal context;  and that the psalms are holistic in insisting that the mundane and the holy are inextricably linked.”  (Kathleen Morris)



The Case for Early Marriage

With some fear and trepidation I recommend the reading of Mark Regnerus articile in Christianity TodayThe Case for Early Marriage With two early twenty somethings in my own home, I want to make this absolutely clear that I am not in any way hinting at or advocating anything.  I do sense that Regnerus has some very valid points that are worthy of every persons consideration.  Take a look and comment.  What do you think? 

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